Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bihar Examination Mass Cheating Scandal - Root Cause is Underdevelopment of the State

Before you curse those caught cheating in the state’s matriculation examination, delve into the cause of the malaise.


Even as the Bihar government continues to crackdown on the cheats involved in the copying scandal during matriculation examination by arresting more than 300 across the state and realising penalty of Rs 4.16 lakh, I begin with an anecdote. I was on a work trip to Patna when a stockist of our company from Darbhanga happened to drop by at the office. On enquiring what brought him there, he told me he had come to enrol his 8-year old son at a boarding school. I went on to offer him some unsolicited advice — as is the wont of Bengalis — asking him why he was not looking at a well-known school in Varanasi belonging to the same group of institutions (Krishnamurti Foundation, Rajghat, a sister school of Rishi Valley) where my daughter had studied.
He flummoxed me by saying, “Wahan toh admission already mil chuka hai; lekin woh school sahi ‘competitive’ nahin hai… is (Patna) school se zyada IAS nikalte hain” (My son has got admission in that school already, but it is not that ‘competitive’; this one produces more IAS officer). On being asked why he was so keen that his son became an IAS, he frankly said, “Bahut izzat hai, kamai hai aur power bhi hai… aur,” he said after a little pause, somewhat coyly, “IAS ladke ka liye dahez bhi accha milta hai” (the job earns one social respect, a lot of income, power and… gets you a good amount of dowry when he is married off). I was stumped.
That is not to mean all those climbing the walls of the school were trying to help potential IAS, IFS or IPS officers. But they and their families do betray a collective societal aspiration. In a state that is economically backwards with no industry worth its name, the two primary options for employment remain kheti (farming) and naukri (jobs). As Prime Minister Narendra Modi perceptively points out, with increasingly diminishing land-holdings in villages, it is not viable to accommodate all children in the family farm. So, some are sent out in search of alternative employment. The uneducated migrate to other prosperous cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. And, for those who stay back, and have an educational qualification, a sarkari naukri (government sector job) appears to be a low hanging fruit — either ‘purchasable’ or obtainable with some sifarish (recommendation of an influential person).
The meritorious (not just those coming from affluent families) head out for higher education outside, many getting into IITs, top engineering and medical colleges, and others gunning for MBA, going abroad or joining ‘Mission UPSC’ — from Delhi’s Hindu College Hostel or one of the many barsatis and tenements around IIT and the Munirka neighbourhood of Delhi. But, for the great many who stay back, a government job remains the only ray of hope.
This is not a phenomenon limited to Bihar alone. This is true for other BIMARU states like Madhya Pradesh (where there was the infamous employment scam, Vyapam) or West Bengal that witnesses stampede to collect application forms for government School Teachers’ Examination and that have thriving tutorial centres to prepare students for lower level government jobs. Madhya Pradesh may be relatively better off with greater industrialisation and private job creation; West Bengal has seen a massive exodus of young people both educated and ‘non-literate’ though the situation may not be as acute as in Bihar.
Put all this against the background of the poor quality of education in government schools, with truant teachers and unhygienic mid-day meals. What is the level of special assistance provided to the slow learners or students with learning disabilities like dyslexia and dyscalculia? Back-ended incentive like cash rewards for every girl-child passing the matriculation examination can, unless supported by an efficient primary and secondary education system, only aggravate the problem.
All this is not a convoluted argument to justify mass-cheating, the shameful incident that came to light last week. There is, of course, culpability of the students and parents. There is also a responsibility of the state of not providing for invigilation and security at the exam centres. Surely this is not a one-time phenomenon caught so graphically on camera this time. It must have been going on for years. But there is also a need to look beyond the symptoms. One can’t raise the bar without building the capability to cross it. Otherwise, those put under test will, in desperation, use unfair means to cross the seemingly insurmountable hurdle.
The answer, unfortunately, can’t be instantly given. Value systems won’t change overnight, especially if it requires a major social transformation. The long-term solution is economic development of Bihar, for which industry, infrastructure and wealth-generation activities have to come along with improved governance.Nitish Kumar had come to power with the promise of “Surakshit Bihar” (safe Bihar) and “Vikas” (development). Sadly, he has now strayed from that path and set the clock back by at least a decade.
To restart the wheels of progress, he has to swallow some of his ego and prejudices. He did that partly by tying up with old political Lalu, but for a misguided intent and with a wrong person. Nitish Kumar must eschew caste politics, establish law and order and curb corruption with the sincerity and determination he had displayed in his earlier two terms as chief minister.
Another positive step would be not to act a spoilsport on the Land Acquisition Bill, which, if anything, is required to kick-start growth in states like Bihar. Not as he has been asking for — more central dole to dig deeper holes of MGNREGA, jeopardising the future of a self-sufficient and progressive Bihar.
Article first published in Swarajya Magazine (Click here to read)